Homes evacuated as fire takes hold at processing plant

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A POTATO processing plant in the central Washington town of Warden in the US burned down in an overnight fire Thursday.

By early Friday morning, emergency responders had evacuated nearly a third of the homes near the plant. Flames were licking a large tank of ammonia, and firefighters feared it might explode.

“This was a very large fire,” Kyle Foreman with the Grant County Sheriff’s Department said. “Certainly one of the top 10 in my career.”

The fire was called in around 5pm and a Level 3 evacuation order had been made by 9pm. Residents were allowed to go home at around 1am on Friday. No injuries have been reported.

Warden is a town of nearly 3,000 people with surrounding crops irrigated by the Columbia River's Grand Coulee Dam and the Columbia Basin Project.

The plant was one of two dehydrated potato processing plants in the state, used to dry potatoes too ugly, small or large to sell to consumers. 

The plant's owner is Frank Tiegs, who farms thousands of acres across the Northwest and owns plants in the Tri-Cities, and major facilities in Oregon and Idaho. 

The Warden plant has acome under previous scrutiny. In 2016, safety violations were reported and in 2017 it was the subject of an investigation into discrimination.

In Washington potatoes account for a $7.4 billion economic impact and 36,000 jobs, according to the Washington Potato Commission. 

Source: Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB)  Image: Grant County Sheriff's Office

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